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‘Diablo Winds’ spark historic wildfires in California wine country

This post has been updated to include revised figures on the number of fires and death toll. 

It’s peak wildfire season in California, and Monday was one of the worst days in state history. More than 60 blazes are currently underway statewide.

At least a dozen wildfires sprung up Sunday night in and around Napa and Sonoma counties—also known as “wine country,” just north of San Francisco — prompting rushed evacuations of more than 20,000 people. In an attempt to speed the flow of relief and firefighting equipment and make the National Guard available, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

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The Northern California firestorm has quickly burned nearly 100,000 acres, and is encroaching on neighborhoods in several places. At around 3 a.m. Monday, a Cal Fire official told a local television station that there was “no hope of containment right now.”

In total, the fires have killed 13 people and destroyed more than 1,500 structures as of Tuesday morning, making them some of the most destructive in state history. More than 100 people have been treated for burns and smoke inhalation at regional hospitals, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and more than 150 people are still missing. Nationwide, this year’s fire season has cost more than $2 billion, the most expensive on record.

Smoke from the fires is visible from across the Bay Area, with many residents reporting the smell of smoke and even ashes falling from the sky. The National Weather Service says that winds at higher elevations in some parts of Sonoma County exceeded hurricane force, with several areas reporting gusts greater than 50 mph.

Several of the worst wildfires in California history have sprung up during October, near the end of California’s months-long dry season. It’s this time of year when a combination of strong offshore winds and low humidity can quickly fan a seemingly innocent spark into a raging inferno.

These winds are usually formed by a strong inland high pressure center, which pushes air down mountainsides and through canyons, causing it to warm up and dry out — a perfect environment for fast-growing fires. In Northern California, they are generally called “Diablo winds,” after Mt. Diablo in the eastern Bay Area. A 2015 study said that climate change is making these wind events more frequent and more severe in California. According to the Bay Area branch of the National Weather Service, conditions will begin to improve starting on Tuesday morning.

One particularly frightening fire in Northern California, the Tubbs fire near Santa Rosa, jumped the 101 freeway, forcing a hospital to evacuate its patients. Officials report evacuation centers that have been set up have already filled to capacity. Aerial images of Santa Rosa on Monday showed widespread devastation of entire neighborhoods.

“People are running red lights, there is chaos ensuing,” Santa Rosa resident Ron Dodds told a local television station. “It’s a scary time. It looks like Armageddon.”


‘Diablo Winds’ spark historic wildfires in California wine country

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Quote of the Day: Pink Donut Boxes

Mother Jones

From Peter Yen of Santa Ana Packaging, a manufacturer of donut boxes:

Anytime you see a movie or sitcom set in New York and a pink doughnut box appears, you know it obviously took place in L.A.

I did not know that! But it turns out that pink donut and pastry boxes are unique to Southern California.1 Why? Long story short, a Cambodian refugee from the Khmer Rouge became the donut king of Orange County during the 80s before he gambled away his fortune in the 90s. When he was starting out he asked his supplier for a cheaper donut box, and the pink box was born. Click the link for the longer story.

1Are they really? Or have they since spread to the rest of the country? Let us know in comments.

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Quote of the Day: Pink Donut Boxes

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Will Orange County Finally Turn Blue This Year?

Mother Jones

Orange County, California. Conservative suburbia. Reagan country. Ground zero for decades of cold warrior political domination. And above all, a reliable generator of Republican votes and Republican fundraising. But just as the demographics of America have been changing, so have the demographics of this famous conservative bastion:

In 1990, whites made up nearly two-thirds of the county’s population. Now, they are a minority. The county’s Latino and Asian populations have grown enormously—some in low-income neighborhoods, particularly in Santa Ana, but many in newly diverse, affluent communities.

As the region has grown more diverse, GOP margins have narrowed…Trump’s disparaging rhetoric about Mexicans and Muslims, his breaks with past Republican stands on trade and the overall tone of his campaign seem likely to create the final tipping point this month.

There are only seven days to go before we find out if Trump manages this historic task. It would be fitting if he’s the one to put the final nail in the coffin of 80 years of GOP domination of my hometown. Only seven days!


Will Orange County Finally Turn Blue This Year?

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There Has Been a Fatal School Shooting Every 5 Weeks Since Sandy Hook

Mother Jones

Classes were just about to begin on the morning of October 21, 2013, when 12-year-old Mason Davis heard shots ring out on the basketball court. A teacher lay sprawled on the ground as Davis started to run for the school building. Then he saw his friend and classmate, 12-year-old Jose Reyes. “Please don’t shoot me,” Davis said, “please don’t shoot me.” That’s when Reyes pointed the 9mm Ruger at him and pulled the trigger.

Davis, who was wounded in the abdomen, was lucky to survive the attack at Sparks Middle School in Nevada, as was another student who’d been shot in the shoulder. Forty-five year-old math teacher Michael Landsberry did not make it. Reyes, who reportedly had been bullied and suffered from mental health problems, also used the semiautomatic handgun he’d taken from his parents’ home that morning to put a bullet in his own head.

In the two years since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, no school shooting has claimed as many lives, nor ones as young, as on that terrible day. But fatal gun attacks at schools and on college campuses remain a fixture of American life. They have occurred once every five weeks on average since Sandy Hook, including two attacks—one in Santa Monica and another near Seattle—in which four or more victims were killed.

With an investigation drawing on data from dozens of news reports, Mother Jones has identified and analyzed 21 deadly school shootings in the past two years. The findings include:

A total of 32 victims were killed (not including shooters)
11 victims were injured
5 shooters were killed (including four who committed suicide, and one shot dead by police)
The school shootings occurred across 16 states
14 attacks occurred at K-12 schools, and 7 occurred on college or university campuses

During the same period, there have been dozens of other gun incidents on school grounds that caused injuries, as well as seven additional cases where someone committed suicide with a firearm, but no one else died. (See this report from the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, which contains a broad list of firearm incidents at schools.) A handful of the cases we analyzed involved shooters who appeared to have mental health problems, a prominent factor in the mass shootings database we compiled for another investigation. (The attack last May near UC Santa Barbara is not included here because although college students were among the victims it did not take place on campus.) Several other cases appeared related to gang violence or domestic disputes. Though it’s not clear in all cases what type of firearms were used, in several the perpetrators wielded shotguns, semi-automatic handguns, and AR-15-style assault rifles.

A surveillance photo of the shooter entering the Santa Monica College library. Santa Monica Police/ZUMA

Gun violence has regularly been at the political forefront since Newtown. While Congress failed to pass a background check bill four months after the devastation, state lawmakers nationwide approved more than a hundred laws either strengthening or weakening restrictions on firearms in the first year after Sandy Hook alone. Gun rights activists have responded by provoking controversy with open-carry demonstrations, while on the gun-control side, major new players have emerged. Lockdown drills have become common at schools, and many have added armed personnel or even tested active-shooter detection systems that use technology deployed in war zones. In November, for the first time in 15 years, a state decided by popular vote to require universal background checks for gun buyers.

All the same, the toll has gone on, with hundreds of children shot to death, daily violence routinely claiming multiple victims, and mass shootings becoming three times more frequent.

Below is the dataset from the investigation. View it in its entirety by clicking here for the Google spreadsheet. Research was contributed by Mother Jones editorial fellow Bryan Schatz.

For more of Mother Jones’ reporting on guns in America, see all of our latest coverage here, and our award-winning special reports.

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There Has Been a Fatal School Shooting Every 5 Weeks Since Sandy Hook

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READ: The Police Report From the Incident That Spurred Elliot Rodger to Mount His Killing Spree

Mother Jones

Elliot Rodger had pondered mass murder for years before last month’s killing spree near Santa Barbara, which left seven dead and another 13 wounded. But it was a violent clash with people who snubbed him at a party 10 months earlier that convinced him to plow ahead with the plan. A police report obtained by Mother Jones through a public-records request sheds fresh light on this incident and raises new questions about how the local police handled clues that surfaced prior to Rodger’s deadly rampage, which ended with him committing suicide.

In July 2013, Rodger, a lonely 21-year-old virgin, attended a party in Isla Vista, a seaside town that’s home to University of California, Santa Barbara. In his 141-page manifesto, Rodger recalled the outing as a “last ditch effort” to lose his virginity before turning 22. (“I was giving the female gender one last chance to provide me with the pleasures I deserved from them.”) But the girls at the party ignored him. Rodger grew livid and climbed up onto a 10-foot ledge where he pretended to pick off party goers with an imaginary gun. He then tried to push several women off the edge, but a group of men intervened and shoved him off instead.

Rodger, who broke his ankle in the fall, initially tried to flee. He later staggered back toward the party to look for his Gucci sunglasses, but he was so drunk that he got lost and ended up in another fight in front of the house next door. “They called me names like ‘faggot’ and ‘pussy’, typical things those types of scumbags would say,” he wrote in his manifesto. “A whole group of the obnoxious brutes came up and dragged me onto their driveway, pushing and hitting me.”

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READ: The Police Report From the Incident That Spurred Elliot Rodger to Mount His Killing Spree

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Santa Claus Points the Way to Our Robot-Filled Future

Mother Jones

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Dean Baker writes today that the Washington Post should be less worried. Their writers seem to think that eventually robots will take away all our jobs, but their editorial page is worried about bankrupting the country via spending on Social Security and Medicare. But you really can’t have both. If robots are beavering away producing everything we could possibly desire, then national bankruptcy is hardly a worry. Except, of course, for this:

There can of course be issues of distribution. If the one percent are able to write laws that allow them to claim everything the robots produce then they can make most of us very poor. But this is still a story of society of plenty. We can have all the food, shelter, health care, clean energy, etc. that we need; the robots can do it for us.

Yep. This is the issue. For all practical purposes, you can think of the elves in Santa’s workshop as a bunch of robots. As near as I can tell, they work for free, they’re insanely productive, and they produce as much stuff as Santa wants them to. So how is all this bounty distributed? Santa is smart enough to have figured out that capitalism won’t really work in a situation like this, so he’s adopted what’s basically a centrally-planned Marxist system: he decides who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, and then distributes gifts accordingly.

That might not quite work for our robot-filled future, but something like it will. Distribution, as John Stuart Mill pointed out more than a century ago, is really the most important question in economics. In the future, it will only get even more important.


Santa Claus Points the Way to Our Robot-Filled Future

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Climate change may ruin Lake Tahoe’s beautiful blueness

Climate change may ruin Lake Tahoe’s beautiful blueness

Aaron Hiler

Lake Tahoe is pretty. The water is clear; the mountains surrounding it are beautiful. For half a century, the environmental group Keep Tahoe Blue has fought to preserve the region’s environmental sanctity, primarily by putting bumper stickers on Volvos, as far as I can tell.

Turns out that those Volvos are doing more harm than good. From the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

Climate change could profoundly affect the Tahoe area, scientists say, taking the snow out of the mountains and the blue out of the water. …

New climate models show that in a worst-case scenario average temperatures in the Tahoe area could rise as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That’s equivalent to moving Lake Tahoe from its current elevation of 6,200 feet above sea level to 3,700 feet, climate scientists report in a special January issue of the journal Climatic Change. That’s as high as the peak of Contra Costa County’s Mount Diablo, which gets only an inch of snow a year. …

It’s not just the mountains that would look different in a warmer climate, according to Climatic Change. The worst-case scenarios also predict a devastating ecological collapse of the lake and loss of its signature clarity and blue color.

Many lakes undergo a process every year, or every few years, that keeps the lake water well-mixed. As water temperature changes through the seasons, it creates circulation in the lake. The warm water on top of the lake in summer cools off in the fall and sinks, mixing with cold deep water. In a warmer climate, the surface water won’t cool off enough to mix with deeper water.

Without that mixture, oxygen doesn’t penetrate the lake, changing its chemistry. So long clarity. So long blue.


Sadly, there’s not a lot that can be done besides stemming climate change globally. The process is already underway; last season, Tahoe ski resorts didn’t see natural snow until January. Happily, this season started off better.

As we’ve noted before, the problem isn’t confined to Tahoe. Warming temperatures are threatening mountain climates across the country. But few have environmental legacies — and environmental success stories — as rich as Lake Tahoe’s.

A recommendation, then, for those who wish to help: Get a “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper sticker and paste it over your car’s tailpipe.

A wintry scene from the mountains near Tahoe. Enjoy it while you can.


Climate change threatens Tahoe’s snow levels, lake clarity, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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Climate change may ruin Lake Tahoe’s beautiful blueness

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